The recent water main breakage in Los Angeles shines a spotlight on a problem that all too many Universities face: the risk of critical but aging infrastructure failing suddenly. While not all failures may be as spectacular as several feet of water flooding streets and campus landmarks, the impact of key electrical, mechanical, plumbing, communication or power plant failures can be far reaching, more so even than the failure of individual buildings. The impact of such failures goes far beyond the immediate disruption of normal operations, opening Universities to the risks of legal claims, increased insurance premiums, fines, expensive repairs, and the “collateral damage” often caused by these unforeseen catastrophes – relocating people, finding alternate facilities to continue operations, replacing damaged/destroyed vehicles, and so on. These failures can also potentially damage the institution’s image.
“Much of the piping that carries drinking water in the country dates to the first half of the 20th century, with some installed before Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House.” [ Source: http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/ucla-wades-damages-pipe-flooding-24767644 ]
More and more Universities are proactively addressing the issue of critical but aging infrastructure. Often led by both their Risk and Facilities Management Organizations, their first step is to understand and quantify their highest areas of risk through on-site assessment by skilled specialists. They seek to answer the questions ‘Where are the issues?’ and ‘What is the impact of a failure?’ Their second step is to model different strategies for using their limited capital resources to remediate the underlying issues, taking into account the tradeoffs this may require with existing and planned capital projects. The final step is to gain consensus among multiple constituencies, including the communities where the Universities are located, to propose, approve, and begin implementing what will inevitably be a multi-year approach to addressing the issue.